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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top fantasy football keepers: Quarterbacks

Tom Brady’s 2008 season ended even more quickly than a Browns fan’s thoughts of another 10-win season (for those keeping track at home, the latter occurred in Week 2, after yet another loss to the Steelers).

While Brady had more time to spend with a supermodel in between knee surgeries, Bill Belichick was nice enough to provide fantasy owners with another worthy option at quarterback.

Matt Cassel, best known for being Matt Leinart’s backup at USC, made owners wait 10 weeks, then made himself a lot of money with a six-game stretch in which he threw for 1,815 yards and 14 touchdowns from Weeks 11-16.

In Weeks 15 and 16, when most leagues hold their semifinal and championship games, Cassel threw for 563 yards and seven scores.

If he was on your team (hint: not the Patriots) during its championship run, you probably are more inclined to look for Cassel when you’re on the clock in eight months.

By then, you will have a much better idea if he’ll continue to fill Brady’s considerable shoes in New England, or whether he will be starting somewhere else — minus Randy Moss and Wes Welker as targets.

Until then, if you have Cassel as an option in keeper leagues, a difficult decision awaits.

ESPN recently reported the Pats plan to place the franchise tag on Cassel, which would guarantee the 25-year-old more than $14 million if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract first.

That would mean New England would have about $29 million tied up in two quarterbacks, since Brady is due to count approximately $15 million toward the salary cap next season.

Feasible, especially with Belichick in charge and the cap expected to reach $123 million next season? Yes.

Likely? Think Romeo Crennel against the Steelers or the Lions vs. USC.

If Brady’s injury rehab doesn’t go as planned, the Pats have to keep both QBs.

If Brady is their Week 1 starter, I would expect Cassel to be traded for some considerably high draft picks.

All of which is a very belated way of introducing our top 10 keepers at quarterback — with apologies to Gisele Bundchen, whose man barely makes the cut.

1. Peyton Manning, Colts (age 32): Yes, Drew Brees was better in 2008. I’m also well aware, depending on your scoring system, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Kurt Warner and Jay Cutler might have been, too. But you always know what you’re getting with the NFL MVP — 4,000-plus yards, 28 or more TDs and 10-12 interceptions. Even better: First-round playoff exits don’t count against you.

2. Drew Brees, Saints (30 on Jan. 15): He almost surpassed Dan Marino’s yardage record, and the 34 TDs weren’t bad, either.

3. Jay Cutler, Broncos (25): Mike Shanahan’s firing might hurt, but you have to figure Cutler will only get better in his fourth season.

4. Philip Rivers, Chargers (27): He and Cutler might not like each other, but their stats are so close it’s tough to tell the difference between the 2006 draft classmates.

5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers (25): Not a bad first season as the starter in Green Bay, all while replacing a legend: 4,038 yards, 28 TDs, 13 interceptions and four rushing scores.

6. Tony Romo, Cowboys (28): He’s got Jessica Simpson at home and Terrell Owens at work. One is a catch, one has problems catching, and both look way better than Romo in December. Thanks, I’ll be here a couple times a week.

7. Matt Ryan, Falcons (23): He started every game as a rookie and threw for 3,639 yards. And his top three weapons — Roddy White (27), Michael Turner (27 on Feb. 13) and Jerious Norwood (25) — are all 27 or younger.

8. Matt Cassel, Patriots (26): He’s a much better option if he’s still the starter in New England and not Minnesota.

9. Donovan McNabb, Eagles (32): You would have to be in a pretty deep keeper league to get this far down the list.

10. Tom Brady, Patriots (31): If he’s anywhere near 100 percent, he’s No. 1 on this list. If not, the Pats have Cassel and he still has Gisele.

Deserves better: Super Bowl XLII MVP Eli Manning is a keeper in the real league, but not in ours. His TD and yardage statistics are almost identical the last three seasons — you can expect between 21 and 24 TDs and 3,200 and 3,400 yards. That’s more than enough for a team that loves to run the ball and has a very good defense. For us in the fake game, that’s more like an upper-level No. 2 QB.

Name to remember: Tyler Thigpen. Our favorite former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer had two or more TD passes five times from Week 8 to 16 (throwing for 15 scores and running for two more in that span). If he’s the Chiefs’ starter heading into next season, he merits a look as a No. 1 fantasy QB.

Brownie bit: Considering Eric Mangini didn’t even mention Brady Quinn by name in his introductory news conference, there’s no word on whether he agrees with Crennel that Quinn is the Browns’ future at the position. Vote of confidence or not, Quinn is no better than a No. 2 QB in fantasy — and that would have to be a league with more than 10 teams.

Next: Running backs


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